Blue tongue skinks belong to the genus Tiliqua, in which they comprise a number of species and sub-species. These animals are found in the wild throughout much of New Guinea and Australia. While animals are still exported from their countries of origin in New Guinea, all blue tongue skins of Australian origin are captive bred, mostly in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
In nature, blue tongue skinks are found in a wide variety of habitats. Animals hailing from Australia’s interior deserts are adapted to a harsh desert lifestyle, while those species from more northern ranges are used to a more tropical environment.
These animals get their common name from the bright blue tongues that they possess and display when startled or during territorial disputes. As pets, they rank high on the list as a result of their gentile demeanor, appearance, and ease of care.
While the adult size of these animals will vary based on species and sex, most adult blue tongue skins are between 14 and 18 inches in total length.
These skinks are extremely hardy and do very well in the terrarium. Captive life spans in excess of 20 years are often reported.
Housing of blue tongue skinks is simple and straightforward. A single baby skink will do well for a few months in a standard 10 gallon terrarium. However, these rapidly growing animals will quickly require more space, and one or two adults should have no less than an enclosure measuring at least 36" long. Suitable cages include Penn Plax cages and Vision cages.
All glass reptile enclosures with locking screen lids are ideal, but molded plastic cages such as those manufactured by Vision will work equally as well. When choosing an enclosure for any reptile, try to get the largest one that you can afford, and also take into consideration security, ventilation, and ease of cleaning.
Blue tongue skinks should be maintained in the mid 80's during the day, and temperatures can safely drop into the upper 70's at night. During normal daylight hours, a localized basking spot should be present at one end of the cage. Basking temperatures in this area should be between 90 and 95 degrees.
Heat may be provided during the day with standard basking bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, and under tank heating pads. Heating pads and other non-light heat sources can be used at night to keep temperatures within the recommended range. In large enclosures, mercury vapor bulbs which not only provide ample heat, but full spectrum light as well, can be utilized. Mercury vapor bulbs are one of the most popular and easy to use methods of providing heat and UVB lighting in the most convenient way possible.
Some advanced keepers are able to maintain blue tongue skinks without full spectrum lighting. However, by doing so, the chances of metabolic disorders increases greatly, especially when raising young animals. Thus, full spectrum UVB light is highly recommended for this species.
You can provide this type of light (which the animals would receive from the sun in the wild) with specially designed fluorescent bulbs designed specifically for providing UVB light to reptiles. Or, as mentioned above, mercury vapor heat/UV bulbs can be used in larger enclosures. Exposure to these wavelengths of light will allow your lizards to properly synthesize vitamin D3 and metabolize dietary calcium.
Blue tongue skinks are a variable group of species found throughout a wide geographical range. Therefore, making generalizations about certain aspects of husbandry can be tricky. Luckily though, these skinks are also highly adaptable, and will thrive in most captive environments. Ultimately you should rely on the breeder or dealer from whom you received your lizard for specifics regrading terrarium type.
In general, most types of blue tongue skinks will do well on a reptile bark bedding, any number of coconut husk beddings, shredded or chipped aspen, or even clean soil. Try experimenting with different substrates and mixes to see what works best for you and your skinks. Ideally, the substrate you choose should be easily spot cleaned, able to maintain some humidity, and allow your lizards to dig.
These skinks are active and curious animals, and they will move around cage furnishings if they are not firmly in place. Elaborate set-ups are not necessary, but you can still provide decorations that not only add to the appearance of the enclosure, but that are functional as well.
Provide one or two sturdy pieces of driftwood or cork bark that may serve as hide spots and for climbing. Half-logs also make ideal hiding spots, and ones which these animals will regularly use. Both live and plastic plants and vines can be added, but keep in mind that blue tongue skinks will eat vegetation, so if using live plants, choose only those that you are certain are not toxic.
Blue tongue skinks should always have access to a sizeable and sturdy water dish. Although they rarely soak, they do drink often, and large water bowls will aid in humidity maintenance for more tropical species.
Tropical species (those from New Guinea and Indonesia) should be kept at a higher humidity than those from the Australian deserts. Daily misting of the entire enclosure should be adequate for topical species, especially if coupled with the use of humidity-promoting substrates and sphagnum moss. Dryer species can be maintained at a lower ambient humidity, but should be provided with one or two localized areas of increased moisture, such as humid hide boxes.
Blue tongue skinks are omnivores in the broadest sense of the term. They will consume just about anything put in front of them. Staples should include appropriately sized crickets, mealworms, wax worms, and roaches. A variety of dark, leafy greens (collard greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce) and fruits (banana, apricots, apple, figs) should also be regularly offered. Small rodents such as pinky and fuzzy mice can be offered as well, but only as occasional treats. ZooMed's canned Omnivorous Lizard diet is an exceptional addition to the diet, and is readily consumed by Blue Tongue Skinks.
Many blue tongue skinks will happily consume eggs, ground turkey, commercial diets, and even bread. As long as the menu varies, there are very few things that cannot be fed to these animals. It is still vital to regularly dust all food items with a high quality calcium/vitamin supplement. Food for babies and growing skinks should be supplemented at each feeding, while once or twice a week is sufficient for adults.
These lizards will eat constantly if given the opportunity, and you have to be careful not to let them become obese. Young animals should be offered food daily, but once adult size is obtained and growth has diminished, food can be offered every other day. Pay attention to the body condition and activity patterns of your skinks, and be prepared to adjust feeding amounts and frequency as needed.
Blue tongue skinks are gentle animals that can easily and safely be handled by keepers. Their heavy build and short arms makes them slow and easy to catch should they try to evade you. As with any reptile, individual specimens will vary in their tolerance of human contact.
Start slowly, handling your skinks for a few minutes a day, and as they become more trusting and tolerant of you, you can increase frequency and duration of handling sessions. Hand feeding is a great way to provide enrichment for your pets while crating a pet-owner bond at the same time.
© LLLReptile & Supply, Inc 2007